After leaving Cuba in February, 2019,
we sailed to Florida and spent a few months doing boat maintenance and upgrades combined with visiting friends and family. When you’re always gone, coming home is exciting! Big smiles as we rounded Key West and headed north to the Tampa area. St Petersburg has changed dramatically in the past few decades. While growing up in Florida, it was primarily known for old folks and the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit (SORC). Thankfully it’s blossomed with a hip vibe from artists and youngsters who’ve migrated there. Things we loved: The Dahli museum, the St Pete Yacht Club, the outdoor market on Saturdays, going to an outdoor art show where my childhood friend and crew in the SORC Eileen Dawson’s sister Jennifer had a display, and eating delicious food at the multitude of new eateries.
Super grateful to our friends Kathryn and Paul Garlick and Ralph Steitz and Jamie Gross for their hospitality while we parked behind their houses, borrowed cars and cooked dinners. They opened their homes and hearts and it was such a blessing to get things shipped and take showers without worrying about running out of water. Expert boat seamstress Kathryn taught me some great sewing tips and I made a few wine bags for gifts. Eric had endless boat repair assists from Paul, and Ralphie taught him how to foil behind their house. I made an attempt and got air for a few moments but when I fell had a near miss with the foil so opted out.
Our buddy the GloMaster was living in the area working for Masterwolt and we spent Easter with her at Egmont Key. Good times with good friends indeed.
We had a wonderful charter with repeat customer Jen, a mother of 5 who is also a doctor of radiology. Her dream to sail around the world someday with her family was inspired when her husband Tim brought her to Antigua to charter with us. This time she was on her own concentrating on learning and taking a break from her routines. Helping Jen overcome her fear of driving was easy breezy. We went through every sail combo and she drove like a champ!
We can’t wait to hear how her story unfolds. Check out the light touch of her finger tips, a sure sign of confidence.
While in the Tampa Bay Area one of our favorite spots to get away from the mainland was Egmont key.
It’s an old fort with a bird sanctuary and long white deserted beaches. Tortoises crawl, birds sing, and we loved the quiet solitude that surrounded us with the exception of one holiday where the locals came in droves with music blaring. Hey, this is their backyard, not ours so it’s all good.
Always ready to stoke those fires for racing, we trained with the Garlicks on their Hobie 17’s and borrowed a friends Hobie 16 then competed in the Hobie Midwinters East in Clearwater Florida. This was the first regatta on a path to the Worlds in November which would be held just south off Captiva Island. One night we invited our racing friends onboard for a Cuban lobster dinner. The bugs were caught by me and Eric off the south coast of Cuba, were in the freezer and waiting for just the right people and time to share. Sadly we lost our good friend Sandra over the summer in a tragic boating accident and this would be the last time we saw her. She was my wingman when I started dating Eric and at the midwinters she crewed for Dan Borg – they won the 16’s class.
Maintenance was a huge focus in Florida since we had access to everything. In addition to picking up our new 3DI mainsail, a new stereo system was installed with bluetooth hooked up to our Bose speakers inside and out, and Eric worked on installing our SSB (Single Side Band) system. It’s an important tool we will rely on when we enter the Pacific. I’m a huge believer in back up systems and this is a backup to the back up with one exception. We can use this while offshore by thousands of miles and connect by radio with anyone on the system whether they are 50 or 2000 miles away. Very cool to have with groups like rallies or friends doing long passages. IridiumGo and InReach use satellites and are fantastic for texting and emergency alerts but you don’t get to chat about the weather or brag about how many fish were caught with someone on the same route. We still have not figured out how to use the dang thing – it’s old school and we’ve gotten used to easy instruments. But with some practice I’m sure it will become less cumbersome. The sunsets were spectacular with the huge billowy clouds and full moon.
Sailing down the west coast of Florida was shared with sister Louise and her husband David. One day we were swarmed by love bugs and used the vacuum to get rid of them. (See photo below of David vacuuming Louises head). Dinner at Cabbage Key was funky (check out the dollar bills on the walls) and delightful where we celebrated Louise’s birthday. In Fort Meyers we ate at Doc Fords, bought a few of his books, and brought fresh shrimp back to the boat for a delicious Charleston recipe of shrimp and grits dinner.
To discover my family’s native state by boat was a treat. As sisters we grew up loving sailing, horses, and Miami. Sharing our lifestyle onboard with our family is important to me and Eric. We snorkeled, shell shopped (this is my term for beach combing or finding shells underwater), cooked old family recipes, played with arts and crafts, fished, shared lots of laughs, and like any healthy family we created great memories together. Check out Louise’s Rosette Spoonbill which she then painted on my t shirt and the wine bag I made.
Our last port with Louise and David was Key West, the southernmost spot in the USA.
The Gardner family has been going there for as long as we can remember and the last time going as sisters was to celebrate our parents life and throw their ashes to the sea with the entire Gardner clan. Eric and I sailed small cats during Key West Race Week when we first started dating back in 2011.
Discovering Key West on our own yacht gave us a whole new appreciation for the area. Of course we had to go play onshore and see how whacky KW still is!
After my sibs left my cousin Nancy and her friend Lauri came to visit for a few days. We sailed to the Marquesas Keys and anchored out after some island exploration.
An old friend from CRYC days was in town, Chris Dowling, and we loved recalling the good old days of when our parents were our age!
Miami friends Diane and Kenny Davis drove down for a few days onboard where we did more key hopping, and Diane was lucky enough to swim with wild dolphins! Sailing/racing friends Kathy Kulkowski and Beryn Hardy drove down for lunch dates and some giggles. Kathy and I have won the Hobie 16 Women’s Nationals twice and Beryn crewed for me in the SORC back in the good old days. So much fun to celebrate lifelong friends with a common passion – sailing.
We surprised Eric’s brother, Chad, with an airline ticket for his birthday and sprung him away from Ohio for his first visit to El Gato. It was a reunion of bros! He had so many funny stories from “back in the day”….
One last visitor, Cindy Cady, a match racing friend who is also now full time cruising, sailed in from Isla Mujeres on her mate’s yacht Willow, and we all danced and ate at a Cuban restaurant near the famous Mallory Square. She gave us great info on the marina where we would later stay in Isla Mujere, Mexico.
This photo is one of the reasons artists flock to the Keys to paint
The colors…these were taken with an outdated iPhone , untouched.
John Forgrave and Tom Materna, Hobie friends for decades, arrived with 2 extra days, just enough time to get a taste of Key West before whisking them away. It turned out to be Pride week so we witnessed pure Key West with some very good street shows!
It was time to say goodbye to the states and start sailing south. Truth is we’d been preparing for months and now it was time for the final preparations like check the satellite communications and weather routing via PredictWind, because after Mexico we would keep going until we got to Panama.
But one last stop was in the plan. June 9th we left Key West, sailed to the Dry Tortugas, about 60 miles west. Fort Jeffereson is located there and it’s a bit tricky with not much room to anchor safely so we timed it well and found a good safe spot to put the hook down.
We can check that off our list of the “someday let’s go”. When we arrived we couldn’t wait to jump in and as Eric was first, he was the first to see something large and ominous under our boat. His first thought was shark. Upon further inspection it was a Goliath Grouper! It was happily hanging out under our shade. These fish can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh as much as 790 lbs!
Wikiedia: Until a harvest ban was placed on the species, its population was in rapid decline. The fish is entirely protected from harvest and is recognized as a Vulnerable species by the IUCN. The US began protection in 1990, and the Caribbean in 1993. The species’ population has been recovering since the ban; with the fish’s slow growth rate, however, some time will be needed for populations to return to their previous levels.
What we didn’t expect were the thousands of birds that swarmed the beach and loved landing on the boat. With birds comes bird S@#T and Eric was none too happy about this byproduct. He spent hours shooing them away.
Found a window to head south and with the squalls and lightening storms blooming (summer in the southern latitudes is typically a light show) we needed to pull up anchor and go look for Margaritaville; the real one, not the Jimmy Buffet store.
Next blog coming soon! Trying to catch up on all of this before we take off again in January. LOL